Whether or not we abolish tolls in Malaysia looks set to remain as both dilemma and drama for some time to come. And this is not because it is impossible to do away or drastically reduce tolls, of course.
Let us call a spade a spade. What is the motivation for toll operators and more importantly for the leased owners?
It is profits of course. Not service to the nation.
Had it been service to the nation you would build with your money, collect your capital and hand over the project to the people while the government budgets a maintenance expenditure.
Yes, leased owners might say 'since we dumped our money into this business to give the people better roads and routes, don't we have a right to make money?'
The truth is they went into that business not because of national service, not because they would be happy to get back their capital, not even because they saw it as a CSR.
The reality is the tolled highways give huge returns on investments. Endless, rolling returns. Returns that keep growing year after year as more and more people use these roadways given the increasing vehicles on the roads.
These companies and their directors will be drawing salaries, dividends and bonuses based on the ever-increasing profits from toll collections.
You also need to know who are the key beneficiaries of these toll collections. Will they come out into the open?
So if a government says it is taking back the tolled roads or it hopes to abolish or drastically reduce toll rates, you know that is going to be a tall order.
Who on earth wants to dump or forgo a cash cow - a business where you collect your money before the customer gets to use the service. And it is guaranteed income mind you, rain or shine.
This is a near monopoly business. No competitor is going to run a parallel route and charge less to take away your business. So why let it go?
Even if the government trades off with the owners with a offer that is hard to resist, how will the government fight the temptation of forgoing a cash cow business that will go a long way for their own political funding?
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.